Any way you slice it, dice it, butter it, the emergence of widespread corporate sustainable agriculture initiatives is a positive development. Some of the largest corporations in the world from Walmart, Sysco Corporation, and PepsiCo to Kellogg, Nestle, and General Mills are engaged in or launching initiatives to increase usage of sustainable agriculture practices and technologies.
In a positive development for venture investment in sustainable agricultural technology, Google Ventures along with Khosla Ventures, First Round Capital, Index Ventures, and Allen & Co. invested $42 million in WeatherBill, a company that provides a unique technology platform that enables the real-time pricing and purchasing of customizable weather insurance using proprietary global weather simulation modeling and local weather monitoring systems.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation along with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) will provide nearly $105 million in funding over the next 5 years for sustainable agriculture programs that benefit developing countries. Cornell University will receive $40 million from the partners to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to emerging strains of stem rust disease. For more on the partnership read the article “Gates Foundation Supports Sustainable Agriculture.”
The phrase ‘sustainable agriculture’ evokes a multitude of extreme reactions. Some people hear ‘sustainable agriculture’, immediately roll their eyes, and utter ‘LOW OUTPUT,’ while other people associate it strictly with the organic movement. Some say ‘sustainable agriculture’ means no GMO, while others say that many GMO products increase sustainability by reducing tillage and loss of topsoil. It’s a bit of a mess.
New and more sustainable agricultural technologies and business models must be introduced in order to decrease reliance on scarce non-renewable inputs, ease pressure on water resources, increase yield per acre without harm to the environment, and cut post-harvest losses arising from waste and spoilage.
By 2050 the world population is expected to reach a peak of 9 billion people. This 40% increase in population, combined with increasing per capita income in developing nations, is projected to increase global demand for food by 70% according to the FAO.